The contribution of students to regional economies: reframing the regional innovation systems approach – Shiri M. Breznitz, Helen Lawton Smith and Sharmistha Bagchi-Sen

Regional Studies Online April 28 2022 Open Access

Our starting point for this special issue was that the contribution of universities to regional economies from perspectives such as technology transfer, new firm formation, as anchor institutions creating a variety of multiplier effects are well rehearsed in the literature. The gap for us was the lack of analysis of the contribution of university students to regional economies.

To explore this area we put together a special session of a Regional Studies Association Winter Conference 2018 where it became apparent that there was exciting theoretically informed empirical research being undertaken in many different countries. With a call for additional papers, our special issue comprises 9 papers which provide evidence from Asia, Australia, Europe, and North America.  Collectively the papers offer an understanding of the effects of student activity upon the knowledge, skill and entrepreneurial bases of regions.

A challenge for special issue editors is to add value to a set of papers. What became clear was that unifying the agenda of these papers is the Regional Innovation Systems (RIS) concept (Cooke, 1992).  In our editorial we attempt to enrich the analytical power of the RIS concept by exploring the complexity of the contribution of universities in RIS and provide in depth information on the contributions and the impact of student activity.

The papers cover the role of universities not just from the perspective of knowledge generation and exploitation, but also from the economic contributions of human capital development and entrepreneurship; short and longer-term effects; and the uneven capacity of regions to benefit both from direct actual expenditure and indirectly from spillovers. These findings relate to the level of regional economic diversification and specialisation and contribute to understanding outcomes, which is also under-developed in the literature (Asheim et al., 2011). The volume also contributes to a more inclusive perspective on RIS with some of the case studies discussing equity and others the perpetuation of class differences.


Asheim, B., Lawton Smith, H. and Oughton, C. (2011). ‘Regional innovation systems: theory, empirics and policy’, Regional Studies, 45:7, 875-891.

Cooke, P (1992) Regional innovation systems: Competitive regulation in the new Europe, Geoforum 23, 3, 365-382